Early and unplanned pregnancies contribute to mental health problems

Lilongwe: Government says it recognises that the mental health of a mother is fundamental to her health and to the wellbeing of her infant and family as well as to the community.

Director of Quality and Management in the Ministry Of Health and Population, Dr Andrew Likaka said this during the launch of the African Alliance for Maternal Mental Health on Friday in Lilongwe.

He said the Ministry acknowledges the research conducted in Malawi and across Africa that has demonstrated that up to 50 percent of women experience significant mental health problems during pregnancy or postnatal period.

Likaka observed that there are many causes of maternal mental health problems that include stress caused by food insecurity, exposure to intimate partner violence, physical illnesses such as HIV obstetric complications among others.

We also recognise that mental health problems can particularly affect young women who have an unplanned pregnancy at an early age and women who already have large families and struggle to support another child, observed Likaka.

He added that government is committed to playing its role in Malawi’s effort to meet the UN sustainable Development Goals to improve maternal mental health problem in nutrition and gender in equality.

Governments can contribute to the aims of the African alliance by working with partners to reduce maternal mental health problems by supporting girls to stay in school, to promote sex and relationship education and ensure access to family planning for all women in Malawi, stressed Likaka.

He further said the provision of quality reproductive health services and safe delivery are important to reduce anxiety amongst women, childbirth and lessen the preference of the psychological trauma of obstetric complications.

As a ministry we recognise the evidence that the integration of mental health care that exist in reproductive and child health services could be an effective and cost effective way of delivering maternal mental health services, he said.

Likaka emphasised the importance of specialist mental health services to whom primary care health services that are focused on helping people with mental disorders to live productive lives within their families and communities to reduce stigma.

He added that government is reviewing the mental health policy and a child health policy in order to reduce mental health problems that occur when mothers experience severe mental disorder or unbearable social circumstances in the country.

Speaking earlier mental health head of department at the College of Medicine, Dr Robert Stewart said the department focuses on the mental health problems of mothers for Malawi and other countries in Africa hence the launch.

We have trained three specialists and will continue training mental health workers to have a particular knowledge about mental health problems that affect women during pregnancy and postnatal in Malawi, he said.

Stewart pointed out that the training of general health workers such as midwives and primary health care workers will help recognise and offer some basic mental services to mothers and be able to refer more to expertise if required from primary health care to specialized services in all health facilities.

He urged the civil societies in the country to start thinking about the mental health of mothers in the country considering that 30 percent of mothers encounter mental health problems during pregnancy and postnatal period and that the situation affects them to care for their babies.

The population needs to know that these conditions are normal and part of life and should not be stigmatised hence the need for awareness, said Stewart.

He thanked the Malawi government for the support and that his department would continue to train more specialists at the college of medicine to ensure that more psychiatrists specialists are being trained.

The launch was organised by the College of Medicine, Kamuzu College of Nursing and other contributors and delegates were drawn from Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Africa and UK.

The African Alliance for Maternal Mental Health is being supported by the Scotland and Malawi Mental Health Education Project since 2006.

Source: Malawi News Agency MANA